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SAG-AFTRA issues strike ultimatum to video game makers

SAG-AFTRA issues strike ultimatum to video game makers
A former executive with a fund that provides retirement benefits to actors and broadcasters has been arrested and charged with fraud. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

As the hostility between actors and the video game industry continues to escalate, the nation's largest actors union has threatened to start a strike on Friday if a new contract hasn't been reached during negotiations this week.

SAG-AFTRA said Sunday night that its national board of directors voted unanimously to set a strike date for just after midnight on Friday should the two sides fail to reach an agreement on a new contract.

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The union said that it has tried for more than 19 months to negotiate a new deal with prominent employers in the video game industry and that performers have been governed by a two-decade old contract still in place.

The Interactive Media Agreement expired in late 2014, but actors have continued to work under it as negotiations have proceeded.

Game makers that would be targeted by a strike include Activision, Disney, Electronic Arts, Take-Two Interactive, Warner Bros. and others.

The game makers said in a joint statement that they "have negotiated in good faith" with union leaders, and they are "disappointed" the union has decided to threaten a strike at this time.

"As part of the minority of game companies that are signatory to an agreement with [the] union, we have demonstrated our commitment to excellent wages and working conditions for video game performers," they said. "We are confident that no matter what action the union leadership takes, our current release schedule will not be materially impacted."

Video game companies said that SAG-AFTRA represents performers in less than 25% of the video games on the market.

SAG-AFTRA  said that sticking points in the negotiations include compensation issues and workplace safety measures for both voice and motion-capture actors.

The union said that there is no bonus structure on any video games and that it is asking for a bonus for every 2 million copies, or downloads sold, or 2 million unique subscribers to online-only games, with a cap at 8 million.

SAG-AFTRA also says that video game employers often don't hire the required stunt coordinator on set, "which puts performance capture and stunt performers at safety risks."

The union said that voice actors also face risk due to the "challenging vocal tasks" that games often require. It is asking that certain vocal sessions be reduced to two hours from four hours without a loss of pay.

"Through many months of bargaining… we have not reached a fair agreement covering SAG-AFTRA performers working in video games — often the most popular games in the world," the union's president, Gabrielle Carteris, said in a statement. "Our members have been clear, now is the time for employers to negotiate a modern contract that covers this highly profitable industry."

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